ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There’s been a major transformation going on with the New Mexico Stars of the Lone Star Football League.
The team that started 1-3, including a 63-21 loss to the Amarillo Venom in the season opener, has rebounded with consecutive wins over the defending champion Venom and is 3-3.
Tonight in Odessa, Texas, the Stars will attempt to win their third straight when they play the West Texas Wildcatters (1-5). In their lone previous meeting, New Mexico won at home 45-39 on March 29.
Last week, Stars coach Dominic Bramante gave a large dose of credit for the team’s success to the defense, which helped the Stars to a 61-37 victory at Amarillo. In one stretch, New Mexico held the Venom without a TD on nine straight possessions, a remarkable achievement in the short-field (50 yards) indoor game.
Helping trigger the turnaround is an ex-UNM defensive back, Emmanuel McPhearson, a native of Maryland. He was in then-coach Mike Locksley’s Lobo program from 2009-11 before transferring to Division II Indiana (Pa.) for his 2012 senior season.
“One of the things Emmanuel brings to us is physicality,” Bramante said Thursday morning at the team’s home base at Hotel Cascada. “We had physicality before he got here, but he also plays with dignity. He’s a class individual.”
McPhearson, 5-foot-10, 212 pounds, has cleared many hurdles to make a return to the field. In addition to four knee surgeries, on Oct. 13, 2012, he was in a car accident on the IUP campus.
“I was hit by a drunk driver, who broke the back of my neck (C6 and 7 cervical vertebrae),” he said. “That put me in a situation where I couldn’t really play football anymore, and I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to walk.”
But within three days, he was out of the hospital and on his feet. After about four months, he shed his neck brace.
“That following summer I said I might as well go back to UNM to get my degree (communications) since I had so many credits. I’ll get out this fall.”
And then, after McPhearson’s neck healed and he strengthened the surrounding muscles, the urge to play football struck again this winter and he joined the semipro New Mexico Titans in March. But before long, he was contacted by ex-Lobo teammate Roland Bruno, a receiver for the Stars.
“He gave me a call after the Stars’ first game (March 14) and said, ‘Man, we need some DBs,’ ” McPhearson said. ” ‘Why not just do it?’ Well, so far it’s been fun.”
MANZANO CONNECTION: Also adding to the secondary’s hard-nosed persona is Manzano and Eastern New Mexico alum Jayson Serda, 5-11, 190 pounds, who starred as a safety and return man for both schools before joining the Stars this year.
He is making a return to the team after a midseason hiatus for personal reasons.
“I noticed a big difference when I came back,” he said. “At first, we weren’t all that together. We were just playing as individuals. But now I think we’re all family and as close as we’ve ever been.”
Bramante said Serda had a stellar game last week, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the stat sheet. Because of an outdated roster used by the Amarillo stat crew, his name wasn’t listed.
“Yeah, that makes me mad, but as long as we get the ‘W’ that’s all that counts,” Serda said.
He was particularly proud of some of the hits he put on Venom fullback Undre Hendrix, who’s listed at 6-feet, 300 pounds.
“He’s even bigger in person than he is on film,” Serda said. “I was trying to go for his legs, but they were like tree trunks. We all had to gang-tackle this guy.”
Said Bramante: “Jayson’s a hammer on the field. He flies all over.”
OFFICIALS GONE WILD: In the Stars’ win last week at Amarillo, a combined 42 penalties were stepped off, including 24 against the Stars.
If that seems like a lot, it is. By comparison, the NFL record for combined flags in a game is 37. The most against one team is 22.
QB OUT: West Texas quarterback Kasey Peters, who was the league’s Co-Offensive Player of the Year in 2013 with the Stars, is out with an Achilles tendon injury. He has been replaced by Kyle Jech, who threw for six TDs last week in a 69-61 loss at Rio Grande Valley.